Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

Even though this hasn't been running a full year yet, it seems a good idea to give a quick rundown of what's happened so far to set the precedent for the next four years (Jesus, this is my life now).

So far I've watched 24 of the 400 movies, but, because some of the movies are on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 32 movies off the list (because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 132 out of 501). Most have been pretty blah with a few being downright horrifying (Cavegirl and Best Friends setting the bar), but there were some good ones there as well. The Creeping Terror has become my new signpost for hallucinogenically dull filmmaking and I have more than a little love for it just for that reason. Day of the Panther was a real unexpected surprise and has landed on my list of go-to bad movie recommendations along with Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe and Miami Connection. I also have to give a nod to The Bat, a nicely done Vincent Price piece that I'd seen before and forgotten. It holds up despite its age and offers both sincere and campy delights. In the same vein, Counterblast was also a surprise for taking narrative turns I'd never seen before. All in all, a good start to the project.

Here, as of 31 December, 2015, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
The Bat
The Big Fight
Carnival of Crime
Counterblast
Deep Red
Don't Look in the Basement
The Driller Killer

Friday, December 25, 2015

023. Blood Mania and 024. The Bloody Brood

Jump to The Bloody Brood (1959)

023. Blood Mania (1970)
Director: Robert Vincent O'Neill
Writers: Tony Crechales and Toby Sacher from a story by Peter Carpenter
From: Cult Cinema

A doctor being blackmailed for $50,000 finds himself drawn ever deeper into a plot involving murder, sex, and betrayal.

Fantastic title sequence for a total misnomer. Blood Mania is neither particularly bloody nor filled with mania. The opening titles, though, feature animated hands clawing “mania” from the word “blood.” This comes in the midst of a woman wearing only the thinnest of nightgowns running in slow-motion through a black void.

I hope you brought your wine because this movie is promising cheese!

Which it delivers, but not in the expected ways. As I said, not particularly bloody or featuring maniacs. No serial killer, no slasher, no real horror at all. Instead it's a blackmail plot that gets complicated by a murder committed in the name of lust which then gets complicated even further.

Dr. Cooper, played by Peter Carpenter who also produced the movie and provided the story (triple threat!), is being blackmailed for $50,000 because he performed illegal abortions to pay for medical school. The blackmailer arranged the abortions and is now holding them over the doctor's head. Meanwhile, the doctor's primary patient is confined to bed due to a heart condition and being cared for by his daughter Victoria, a nymphomaniac infatuated with the doctor and waiting for her father to die.

These elements come together as you'd expect: the doctor sleeps with her and tells her about the blackmail, she kills her father and promises the doctor the money if he keeps sleeping with her.

In the interim, the doctor's girlfriend offers herself to the blackmailer to get him to forgive the debt, but he rapes her and doesn't stop pursuing the money. If my description seems abrupt, it's not me, that's exactly how abrupt it is in the movie. Also, that girlfriend never shows up again and the blackmailer is absent for the rest of the movie except for one scene.

The girlfriend disappearing—and after such a dramatic moment—is kind of the movie in a nutshell. Huge moments are put on screen to shock the audience and then basically waved away for the next plot point. Even the blackmail plot that starts this all off is forgotten once it stops serving as an inciting incident. I mean, the doctor is given two weeks to get the money, a day or two later tells Victoria who then kills her father, and learns from her lawyer, presumably that day but probably the next, that the will won't be read until two weeks from the next day, and then there'll be the issue of actually settling those finances. At best, the doctor is two days late delivering that payment, if he even can because . . .

There's a sister!

If this sounds like a season of a soap opera, I wouldn't say you were wrong.

So Act 1: Doctor Cooper is being blackmailed. Act II: Victoria seduces the doctor and kills her father. Act III: the will is read and everything is left to the other daughter!

There's more including unrequited lesbian love (although “lesbian” can't be said on screen), various sex scenes, and a Wurlitzer score that only heightens the sense that this is just a sequence of porno set-ups with the porn cut out.

And frankly, the whole thing's pretty fun. Certainly not the content I expected from the title, but just as comically bad as I thought it would be. The movie is unrelentingly silly, the Act III sister has full-on Marilyn Quayle hair, and the look on the father's face when he dies had me rolling. The movie's all right and I recommend it for a laugh.

There is no visible copyright notice on my copy and I can't find any record of the movie on copyright.gov, so I've added an MPEG2 copy of the film to archive.org here.

024. The Bloody Brood (1959)
Director: Julian Roffman
Writers: Anne Howard Bailey, Ben Kerner, Elwood Ullman, and Des Hardman
From: Chilling

Two beatniks decide to murder a messenger boy for the thrill of watching someone die. The boy's brother starts exploring the beatniks' world of drugs and crime in search of his brother's killers.

A tightly-made little piece of beatnik exploitation that I wouldn't have minded being a bit longer. This is a nice companion piece to Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, also from the same year, just for the competing visions of beatniks they present. Corman's offered a bunch of stoned, navel-gazing hipsters too stupid to notice what was in front of them. This presents a group of would-be mafia goons using the thinnest pretense of philosophy to justify their criminal activity.

The plot isn't much to speak of—the movie, at 69 minutes, very literally is little to speak of. Nico and Freddy watch a man die at a bar and decide they want to see it again. A messenger boy happens to show up just at that moment and they feed him a hamburger laced with ground glass. As he's dying, the victim calls his brother while Nico and Freddy watch. The rest of the movie is the brother trying to solve the crime the police can't.

After that the movie follows the standard mystery formula, possibly made more obvious by Nico being played by Peter Falk. Even though he's the villain, all these little Columbo moments pop up when he's trying to sort out who the brother is and why he's trying to talk to him. Falk was good, even back then. He's easily the best actor in the movie so it's fun to watch him ham it up a bit.

Otherwise, the movie's all right. Like I said, I'd have been fine with it being longer, with there being a little more threat facing the brother as he investigates the murder, more of a sense of Nico closing in on him as he closes in on Nico. As it is, a quick, to-the-point, competently made little flick.

This is in the public domain and an MPEG2 version of it can be downloaded from archive.org.

Friday, December 18, 2015

021. Day of the Panther and 022. Don't Look in the Basement

Jump to Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

021. Day of the Panther (1988)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writer: Peter West
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Jason Blade, an elite special forces agent trained in a secret form of kung-fu, goes to Perth, Australia to infiltrate the drug syndicate that killed his partner. He has to find enough evidence to lock the boss up for good before the syndicate learns who he really is.

From the start, from the first note of the opening theme, this feels like the most '80's thing from the '80's that ever '80's. After the credits, we cut to two doughy white guys and a gormless woman walking down a hall while the older doughy man narrates. The woman is Linda, the narrator's daughter, and has been training with “a young man called Jason Blade.”

Jason Blade. That is a stupid, stupid name. The kind of name you riff on endlessly, and it serves as a good barometer for the kind of pleasure this movie offers.

Oh, so many pleasures.

The scene passes quickly. Blade and Linda become partners investigating a drug deal in Hong Kong, but their camera with all the evidence gets destroyed. Cut to Perth where Linda has found one of the syndicate's hideouts and tells Blade over the phone that she's going to investigate with or without him.

Of course she goes in alone and has to fight several toughs, but what makes the scene stand out is the entire time she's fighting, the movie keeps cutting back to Blade coming to Perth, literally cutting to his commute. We see him on the plane, disembark, get tailed by some cops, even check in to his hotel. The dichotomy between the fight and his arrival is hilarious. He is, 100%, a lump of hero.

Linda, by the way, is kicking all kinds of ass. Her fight scene against a trio of thugs wearing odd Halloween masks—a pig, a skull, and an old man—is probably the most impressive in the movie. She manages to defeat all three of them (with a bonus “Fresh!” death at 19:20) only to be killed at the last minute by the big boss' #1 henchman which is really disappointing. I wanted to see more of her in the movie, not just watch her become an additional piece of motivation for hero lump.

To the movie's credit, she does die off-screen and is never portrayed as weak. There's no exploitation of her suffering and she's never a damsel in distress. Even when she dies she resigns herself to the fact that she's lost—she doesn't beg or bargain, just closes her eyes before the villain throws the knife. The same is true of the other female character, the old man's niece who becomes hero lump's new love interest. As soon as she showed up, I expected her to be kidnapped and turned into a damsel in distress. While she does get threatened and captured, she handles her own escape and lays out the thug menacing her, all without any martial arts.

The women provide the peak moments in the film. In between Linda's death and the climactic final battle, hero lump is smug and boring while trying to infiltrate the syndicate with a stupid plan that somehow works. He has several fight scenes that aren't bad, but not nearly as good as the big one with Linda.

This is an Australian film shot on the cheap and, oddly enough, the director took to IMDB's message boards to defend these movies—yes, “movies” plural because this one ends with a last-minute narrated cliffhanger and the credit tag that “JASON BLADE will return in STRIKE OF THE PANTHER”. The comments are worth checking out because they not only pull back the curtain a little on the business of film, but they also make the movie seem that much more impressive.

Unfortunately, I do not have Strike of the Panther (I would watch that so fast). This movie is pure bad movie fun. It's eminently riffable and just a pleasure to behold. It's from 1988 so no chance that it's public domain, but it looks to be in several places online—both legal and not-so-legal—and I highly recommend watching it. It's a tight 83 minutes, shot pretty well on really cheap sets, and absolutely delightful. It's the kind of thing that makes you happy to watch movies.

022. Don't Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten (1973)
Director: S. F. Brownrigg
Writer: Tim Pope
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Stephens Sanitarium operates under the radical concept of letting its patients indulge their obsessions instead of trying to cure those obsessions. Unfortunately, this leads to a patient putting an ax into Dr. Stephens' back while another patient murders the nurse. Charlotte Beale, a new nurse, arrives that night largely unaware of what has happened. She tries to do her job despite increasingly dire signs that things are not all right.

A light twist on “the lunatics have taken over the asylum.” Rather than have the patients swapping roles with the doctors and horror ensues, this offers a space where the patients are already given free reign leading to unsurprising results. Frankly, I like that as a pitch more than I like its execution. Were it a space where various sociopaths were interacting, their conditions and issues coming into conflict, that could produce some real tension and drama (see any Batman story about Arkham Asylum). This movie, though, portrays all the patients essentially as developmentally disabled. They're all overgrown children throwing murderous tantrums which isn't compelling entertainment. I mean, if you're going to put us in the crazy house, give us interesting crazies.

This is obviously a low-budget film—minimal set decoration, sound is a little muddy, everything is shot with one spotlight—but they handle it well. The movie doesn't have any frills or flare, but it doesn't have any obvious incompetence either. The acting, then, has to carry the weight of the film, and, as I mentioned earlier, the characters themselves are just children. This isn't an issue of good vs. bad acting, it's that there are no real roles to work with. All the patients are shouty, stabby, and giggly in various ratios which just leaves us with Nurse Beale who's supposed to serve as our window into this world and the person we hope escapes.

But there's nothing there.

Even when things jumped off, I wasn't worried about whether she'd make it, I was disappointed that there wasn't more of a slow-burn up to then. Ti West's House of the Devil does an amazing job of that—nothing happens the entire movie and it's non-stop tension. Things happen in Don't Look in the Basement, but there's rarely, if any, tension. It just limps along to it's unnecessary and obvious twist.

The movie does have two unintentionally funny moments. The first is a telephone repairman visits the sanitarium and says, “How come you people didn't call, I mean about the telephone? It can't be working.” Because the phone's not working.

The other was the closing credits which has a shot of each character and the name of the actor. Simple enough, however, the shot of every character who died is their corpse so it just becomes this comically grisly cast list.

It's not a good movie, but it's not so-bad-it's-good either. It feels like everyone involved was competent but also showed up just to cash a check. If you do riffing with friends, it'll serve you well enough. Otherwise, it's pretty meh.

Odd bit of trivia: the director's son, in 2015, wrote and directed a sequel, Don't Look in the Basement 2. The trailer made me laugh out loud several times.

This movie is in the public domain and available on the Internet Archive here in MPEG2 format.

Friday, December 11, 2015

019. Cavegirl and 020. The Driller Killer

Jump to The Driller Killer (1979)

019. Cavegirl (1985)
Director: David Oliver
Writers: David Oliver, Phil Groves
From: Cult Cinema

Rex, the school nerd, gets separated from his class on a field trip to area caverns. While there, a crystal sends him back to Neanderthal times where he finds and falls for the beautiful Eba. He initially thinks he's studying the Neanderthals, but learns that he'll have to discover his own hidden depths if he's going to save the day.

This movie almost derailed the entire project, it was so uncomfortably bad. I'm used to watching inept movies and boring movies but rarely do I encounter something that makes my skin crawl. This not only made my skin crawl, it made my friend Faradaye Rage and me uncomfortable to the point where we were both shouting at the screen.

The movie starts with Rex, a “high school” student played by a 22-year-old. He's the typical 80's nerd—incompetently dressed, overly clumsy, and completely invisible to women. Of course, also the target of the school's bullies. Several obviously telegraphed pratfalls, all poorly done, establish this set-up before everyone goes trucking off to explore some local caves. The bullies steal Rex's backpack while he's using the bathroom which leads to him getting separated from the group.

Meanwhile, the military is doing missile testing nearby. Which, by the way, is fantastic. If you're going to be a screwy, absurdist comedy, go all out. My beef with the few comedies I've seen for this (and I'm sure with the ones to come) is that they don't have the courage to embrace their concept. There will be one or two good jokes, but overall the movie will feel perfunctory and dull, maybe even going so far as to feel self-congratulatory about how “edgy” it is (see Deathrow Gameshow. Of course, none of the comedy is edgy.

This, though, promises a bit of that manic absurdity. It's called Cavegirl after all. If this had been a mid-80's gender-swapped version of Encino Man, I'd be down for that.

So Rex is in the cave, finds a giant crystal that starts glowing, the signal the crystal sends out causes the missile the military fired to go off course and detonate near the cave. When Rex wakes up, he's in the distant past, a nerd in the Land of the Lost. He quickly meets Eba, the titular Cavegirl, and her tribe. The tribe doesn't like him, but she does, and he spends the rest of the movie alternately trying to teach her his modern ways and trying to document how the tribe lives.

Where the movie falls apart is just how rapey it is from the word go. As soon as Rex meets Eba, he starts trying teach her English, primarily the phrase, “I want to sit on your face.” When not trying to get her into a place where he can claim, “she asked for it,” he's actively trying to force/trick her into sex by taking her to a secluded bed he's rigged up, grabbing her knees, and spreading her legs.

And all this is funny because, well, you know how guys are, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The movie wants Rex to be the nice guy you're pulling for, but he's the “nice guy,” the guy who thinks he's entitled to sex because he wants it and it's your fault if you're not interested in screwing him. And this, by the way, is the rest of the movie. Sure, there are elements of him trying to be the observing scientist and a climax involving a tribe of cannibals, but it's almost all him trying to trick her into screwing him—not trying to form a relationship, not trying to fall in love, trying to fuck someone he assumes doesn't know what's really going on which is why he's after her. By the way, that line's important to draw because there's another cavegirl who's totally into him, but we all know it's not worth it if it's with some fat slut who wants to, amiright? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I literally can't write about this without getting angry and just going into a long, long rant. There isn't even that much content in the movie. What content there is is Rex the rapist and the humor is supposed to lie in the slapsticky pratfalls that keep thwarting his efforts.

The movie works as a nice piece of cultural anthropology if you want a sense of where we were 30 years ago. Nothing about this seemed problematic to the people involved when they made it. In fact, they thought this was normal. The producers didn't imagine themselves to be edgy or clever; the movie's knowingly lazy so everything that strikes the wrong chord now was seen as, “whatever, that's just what people expect” when it was made. It says something that this was more morally repellent to me than The Driller Killer, the serial killer movie that sparked the video nasty list in the UK. Just viscerally awful.

020. The Driller Killer (1979)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Nicholas St. John
From: Chilling

Reno is an artist at the end of his rope. He's behind on rent and his agent won't loan him more money until his masterpiece is done. On top of this, a punk band moves in downstairs and practices day and night at full volume. That's when Reno sees an ad for the Porto-Pak, a battery pack that powers electrical appliances away from home, any appliance, even a power tool.

This is one of the infamous ones, one of the big ones, the film that's credited or charged with starting the Video Nasties movement in Britain. A movie so foul and vile and dangerous that it had to be banned lest it corrupt and destroy a nation's youth. How does it stand up 36 years later?

It's all right. The movie has a big reputation to live up to and it's unlikely any film could. I will say, though, that there's a little more going on here than in a traditional z-grade slasher pic and I know a lot of the other movies on this set don't have nearly the intelligence that this film has. That said, it's still a first feature from a director, shot independently on a low budget, and reflects the limitations of the time. I do, though, love the opening title card insisting "This film should be played loud." I want that as the background on my phone.

To address the big topic first, is it really that “nasty”? No. The idea of the movie is discomfiting—the main character slips into psychotic fugues and murders people with a power drill—but you don't really see the deaths in detail. The filmmakers didn't create dummies or fake heads for the drill to go in so most of the worst moments are kept either off-screen or just out of frame.

And bravo. Suggestion is far more disturbing than seeing; it forces us to fill in the gaps and, as an audience, we can do that far better and in a far more personally distressing way. The one scene that stands out is when he kills a man by drilling into his head. They do show the drill touching his skull, but there isn't any penetration. It's clear that this is fake. Only this is the image that ended up on the VHS cover when the film was released in the UK and that sparked everything else.

The rest of the film has some interesting themes, things left unsaid. It opens with Reno meeting a derelict at a church, seemingly thinking the man is his father. When the derelict tries to grab Reno's hand, Reno panics and flees insisting he doesn't know the man even though he had Reno's name and number on a piece of paper. Later we see scenes of Reno interacting with and drawing the homeless people in New York.

When Reno starts killing, he only attacks the homeless until the very end. Several of the killings happen after we see scenes of the soon-to-be-victims bothering people on the street or relating stories of residents of New York being upset with them. I don't think it's a stretch to read this as purposeful, that the movie is presenting a New York that is crumbing and overrun with homeless, punks, junkies, and homosexuals. While Reno is annoying and abusive, he seems to be surrounded, arguably corrupted, by these other forces: the band downstairs, the two women he's in a relationship with, and his gay agent. Reno himself is a transvestite which is only just made explicit.

I even got the sense that Reno was hooking up with the homeless men—that may be how the initial man got his number. There's also a curious scene before Reno starts killing where he's trying to get something from a man sleeping in a doorway. The lines he uses are almost identical to those said to him later by one of his victims. So was that his pick-up line and is there supposed to be an undercurrent of repressed homosexuality in Reno? The first death with the drill looks a lot like he's humping the victim and drills are pretty phallic.

Ultimately, the movie's okay. Not great, not terrible, a historical and cultural curiosity. It takes a long time for the killing to start and the film only focuses on a few—the head scene and a death where a man is basically crucified. There's some nudity and lesbianism which is a little eye-rolling in its obviousness, in its pandering to a grindhouse crowd, but I think the movie overall is worth a watch. Also, it's in the public domain.

The version I watched is the same as this one on the Archive which conveniently links to two other versions, both widescreen and allegedly uncut.

Friday, December 04, 2015

017. The Alpha Incident and 018. Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride

Jump to Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1974)

017. The Alpha Incident (1977)
Director: Bill Rebane
Writer: Ingrid Neumayer
From: Cult Cinema and Chilling

Scientists studying a dangerous Martian microbe have a sample transported by train where it infects one of the staff leading to a quarantine.

Much of this movie hinges on our hero being bad at his job. He's supposed to be guarding the sample as it travels by train across the country, but he's going somewhat undercover, posing as a railroad marshal or quality control person (I don't fully remember) and is called out, jovially, by the train's handyman. The guard goes to sleep—far from the sample and without securing his keys—and the handyman, naturally curious, possibly hoping to steal something valuable, investigates the cargo. As he does, one of the vials breaks. He panics, tries to clean it up, and then puts the keys back hoping he won't get in trouble.

What's it say about the place I am in my life that I feel so bad for the guy who sets all the trouble in motion when he says, “I just wanted to have a look”?

They arrive at a junction where the cargo will be switched over to another train. There, the guard finds out something broke, calls his government handlers, and a quarantine is enacted locking in the handyman, the guard, and the three staffers at the station. The staffers chafe at being held there against their will, one tries to run so the guard shoots him, and the guard never tells them the little that he knows throughout the entire situation. He's always just telling them to shut up and follow orders. Were this a hostage situation and he trying to steal the material, the dialogue wouldn't be much different.

Which is one of the big problems of the movie. The guard is supposed to be the hero and the bloviating misogynist that blows up at every new wrinkle is supposed to be the source of all the trouble. Only, nearly every objection he raises is right. Here's a quick writing tip: don't make your jackass the voice of reason. The movie literally has a moment where, after the jackass has been shot by the guard, one of the other characters tells the jackass, “He hasn't done anything to you.”

The movie's not painfully dull, but we spend all our time with people who aren't that interesting worrying that they may be infected. The results of infection are pretty nice—your head swells up and explodes—but otherwise the movie is largely without incident. The audio is worth noting because it gets really bad at points and the two versions I have are different lengths. One is longer by two minutes and has both sides of the guard's first phone call to his superiors. That call is nearly unlistenable, but without it there, the shortened version has a real continuity issue.

At the end of the film, it's not clear if they're ripping off Night of the Living Dead or if they just ran out of ideas. There's debate on archive.org about whether this is public domain but my copies, in very blurry, very hard to make out text, seem to have copyright notices on them.


018. Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride aka The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Director: Alan Gibson
Writer: Don Houghton
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Scotland Yard infiltrates a Satanic cult that seems to be drawing in the richest and most powerful members of society. What none of them know is that Count Dracula himself is running the cult and manipulating its members to his own purpose.

I was so excited about this movie and it was so dull. A Hammer production starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing, respectively, promises so much and this, apparently, is the least, and last, of those pairings. The go-to puns are to refer to this as “anemic” or “bloodless,” but it's very hard not to go there. The movie itself just doesn't have any vim.

For example, the first twenty minutes of the movie include the cult performing one of their rituals and a British Intelligence agent escaping their compound only to be shot at the last minute. He manages to deliver his report to his superiors just before dying. Dramatic enough on its face, but it shouldn't take twenty minutes and the whole situation is dragged out by cutting from the agent's escape and report to the ritual, and I'm not sure some footage from the ritual doesn't get repeated in the agent's report.

The name of the game is padding and the film just drags everything out. Dracula doesn't even show up until maybe the last third of the movie and it's more than a little frustrating that the filmmakers twiddled their thumbs for so long. I mean, the characters bring in Van Helsing, the title of the movie has “Dracula,” why don't we just get to Dracula? Why this long, long delay? And, in the end, Dracula is defeated by a brier patch. You just have to roll your eyes.

I've seen this movie before, which didn't help, possibly several times. Apparently the British version that's titled The Satanic Rites of Dracula was public domain, but was pulled back into copyright by GATT. I may have seen it as part of The It's Alive Show. I know I saw the version from 2010's Elvira's Movie Macabre (available on Hulu here).

Friday, November 27, 2015

015. The Bat and 016. Death in the Shadows

Jump to Death in the Shadows (1985)

015. The Bat (1959)
Director: Crane Wilbur
Writers: Crane Wilbur from a play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

A mystery writer starts being menaced by a serial killer known as "The Bat" after renting a house with a million dollars hidden in its walls.

In some ways a by-the-numbers studio suspense piece that, as a commenter on archive.org notes, was done in several versions. This version is pretty strong, though, with nice performances by Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Vincent Price is the town doctor on a hunting trip with the local bank president. The president tells Price that he’s embezzled a million dollars from the bank and hidden it somewhere in his mansion. He expects the vice president of the bank will take the fall, but, to simplify things, wants Price to help the president fake his death. Price instead kills the bank president.

Meanwhile, Agnes Moorehead is a mystery writer who has rented the bank president’s mansion in the countryside for her vacation. The staff is worried because they’ve been hearing tales from town about a serial killer known as “The Bat.” The movie then follows the three plots—the Bat, Price looking for the money, and the effort to exonerate the bank’s vice president—to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s nothing radical about this film, but it handles its twists and misdirections well. I hesitate to say more because I think that would ruin the fun of watching this. The movie doesn’t have any Shyamalan-level twists, but it does a nice job of being aware of and then subverting expectations.

I actually watched this years ago as part of the pd project Horror Collection and had completely forgotten what it was about. I was confusing it with Man in the Attic, a movie about Jack the Ripper starring Jack Palance. The Bat was good, though, even a second time through. Highly recommend for anyone who likes that 50’s aesthetic or if you’re programming a spooky movie marathon for your kid’s slumber party. It has the right tone, doesn’t have any objectionable content, and moves along at a nice pace.

I have no idea why this is on the Sci-Fi Invasion set as opposed to any of the others.

I added an MPEG2 of this movie to the Internet Archive 7 years ago (holy cow. I was just getting ready to move to Philly). You can find it here.


016. Death in the Shadows aka De Prooi (1985)
Director: Vivian Pieters
Writers: Vivian Pieters and Ton Ruys based on Cahterine Arid’s novel Henrietta Who?
From: Pure Terror

Valerie finds out after her mother’s death in a hit-and-run that her mother never had children and wasn’t really her parent. Now Valerie has to sort out the details of her identity before whoever killed her mother kills her as well.

This is a dubbed Dutch film and I worry some of it got lost in translation. The tone’s nice and there are some interesting possibilities presented in how people respond to Valerie trying to uncover her mother’s past, but they don’t relate to the conclusion so the film feels like it takes several unnecessary turns toward the sordid.

And when I say “sordid,” I don’t mean gratuitous nudity, although there is that. Valerie undressing to take a shower or go to bed will make you roll your eyes: it’s not part of the plot, there aren’t other characters there so it’s not about showing a relationship, it’s just obvious pandering.

The sordid elements, though, stem from the neighbor. She’s played up as a suspicious figure and Valerie eventually follows her into town to find out what she does. Turns out the neighbor works as a dancer in a peep show club. All this does is make you ask why it’s there. That’s not a plot point and not something that comes up again. If it were part of the story, if that’s where things were going and Valerie was going to find out some unpleasant truths about her mother’s past, great. The story doesn’t go there, though, so it’s just a moment where the character descends into this leery space just so the movie can indulge in it. Honestly, if you’re going to try to be seedy, commit and tell a seedy story.

The plot itself—basically the revelation at the end and the inciting incident—is solid and compelling on its own. The movie just never feels like it locks into that. I might return to this movie in case I missed something while watching, but I don’t think so.

This is listed in Film Chest’s archives, but that seems unlikely since it’s from 1985 and my copy appears to have a copyright notice in the closing credits (although the print is blurry and it's hard to make out).

Friday, November 20, 2015

013. Deadtime Stories and 014. Counterblast

Jump to Counterblast (1948)

013. Deadtime Stories (1986)
Director: Jeffrey Delman
Writers: Jeffrey Delman, J. Edward Kiernan, Charles Shelton
From: Chilling

An uncle trying to get his nephew to fall asleep tells him three twisted versions of fairy tales: a story of 3 witches, a modern take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” and a psychotic spin on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

The first is a story about two witches preparing to resurrect their dead sister. They have a servant/slave/son that they use to trick victims into coming into their lair to be murdered. The witches send the boy out to seduce a maiden so she can be used in bringing back their sister. Of course the kid falls in love with the maiden and the story proceeds from there.

And it's fun. All the pieces, by the way, are fun in their way and pretty competently handled despite their dramatic differences. This first piece really feels like it's drawing on Evil Dead for stylistic inspiration, which isn't a bad thing. Watching it, I remembered other times I'd stumbled across this movie and thought this short was an entire feature. It feels larger than it actually is and spins out a world and situation nicely.

The second piece is “Little Red Riding Hood” transposed to the 80's. Red is trying to deliver a prescription to her grandmother only the pharmacist mixes her prescription up with “the wolf's” prescription: an intense sedative that was being sold under the table. The wolf goes to the grandmother's house to try to get the pills back, but Red is meeting up with her boyfriend for sex. As night gets closer, the wolf's patience starts to run thin.

This isn't shot as well as the first one and its ideas are a little muddled. It makes “Little Red Riding Hood” semi-allegorical by framing the wolf character as a drug dealer, but then mixes that with “Little Red Riding Hood” as a werewolf story which kind of undoes any allegorical element. Plus the sex stuff makes it feel like a Skinemax version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” It's the weakest of the three shorts and definitely drags a bit in the middle.

The final piece is the strangest: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” reimagined with the Bears being a family of criminal sociopaths who retreat to their isolated hideout only to find the telekinetic murderer, Goldi Lox using the place to bury the bodies of her ex-boyfriends. Tonally, this is completely different from the other two and doesn't even try to be a horror story. Instead, this feels like it was produced by the Subgenius Foundation: basically a live-action cartoon, but fun for just how off-the-rails it is right from the start.

Tying all the pieces together is the frame narrative of the uncle trying to get his nephew to go to sleep. Why he's watching the kid or where the parents are is never explained nor is it ever explained why anyone would trust their kid with this guy. He threatens to hit the kid, is telling him sexualized versions of fairy tales, and basically tells the kid he's getting ready to masturbate to some pageant show. He's not falling into the realm of “Uncle Touchy,” but he's definitely toeing the line of “Creepy Uncle.” The frame, of course, is just a pretense to get us to the shorts, but it's still a curious choice the director made.

Overall, though, it's a fun movie and I'd recommend finding a copy. It's a nice flick if you want to enjoy some mid-80's cheesiness. This was mistakenly thought to be in the public domain which is why it's on my copy of the Chilling box set but not on copies being distributed now.

014. Counterblast (aka Devil's Plot) (1948)
Director: Paul L. Stein
Writers: Jack Whittingham from a story by Guy Morgan
From: Cult Cinema

A Nazi bacteriologist escapes from a British POW camp and is forced into a plot to develop a new biological weapon and its cure—the cure for the defeated Nazis and the weapon for the rest of the world!

I don't want to say too much about this movie because I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. It's a studio machine piece, just something cranked out after the war, but competently done. One of the upsides of the studio system is that even their cheaper pieces were produced by experienced professionals.

What stands out most about this movie, though, is that the protagonist is a Nazi. You're not watching some British spy try to hunt him down before he develops his super-virus, you're with the Nazi wondering if he'll perfect his formula, if he'll get caught, and if he'll sort things out with the other characters. I had moments watching this movie where I worried that he'd get caught and then realized, he's a Nazi literally trying to destroy the world. I want him to get caught!

That cognitive dissonance runs through the film as well. The movie opens with the scientist and several of his Nazi colleagues escaping the POW camp and then the main character getting back in touch with the remaining Nazi underground in post-war England. He wants to leave, they force him to stay and continue working on the virus. So the character is set-up with a certain degree of sympathy. He's in a situation that he wants to escape and can't.

The movie tries to make him monstrous later by referring his activities in the war and by having a scene where he seems to be reaffirming his commitment to the Reich, but it never quite succeeds at making him read as being anything but a man caught between two powers' fight.

And then you remember he's a Nazi trying to destroy the world and it's, “Movie! You fooled me again!” It's a solid little flick.

This appears to be in the public domain, unfortunately my copy has a Mill Creek Entertainment bug burned into it so it can't be uploaded. However, there is an mp4 of the movie here on archive.org

Friday, November 13, 2015

011. Best Friends and 012. Don't Answer the Phone!

Jump to Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)

011. Best Friends (1975)
Director: Noel Nosseck
Writer: Arnold Somkin, Doug Chapin (additional dialogue)
From: Cult Cinema

Jesse meets his best friend Pat freshly back from Vietnam after an injury to his hand. The pair are traveling to California with their fiancées to get married and settle down into adult life. Only Pat isn't ready to call an end to the wild and crazy times he had with Jesse and goes to increasingly disturbing lengths to get his way.

Spoilers, I'm going to give away the ending and I don't recommend this movie.

This is a grim little film that serves as one of those unintentional time-capsules, portraying moments as lighthearted or innocent that seem reprehensible today: have sex with your friend's fiancée while traveling with your own and don't try to hide or apologize for it (she'll let it go), buy drinks for teenage girls when you're in your 30s so you can hook up with them later. I'm shuddering because it's cold where I'm writing this and because that's horrifying.

It's not just that the movie is turgid and dull—which it is—it's really disturbed. There's something weird relationship-wise amongst the four characters from the start and it's pretty clear early on that Pat's an abuser. Jesse, the hero, isn't much better, though. He sleeps with Jo Ella, Pat's partner, without much, if any, coaxing, and then refuses to leave Pat behind after he tries to rape Kathy, Jesse's partner.

That's part of this movie, by the way, no exaggeration. Pat tries to rape Jesse's fiancée, is only stopped by Jesse showing up, Jesse has no doubt about what happened, and Pat's response is, quote, “We gonna let something like this come between us?” And it doesn't. Jesse still doesn't cut Pat out of his life.

In fact, the only time Pat crosses the line is at the end when Jesse asks him what it would take to make things okay and Pat says he wants to screw Kathy. After everything up to that point in the movie, Jesse's incredulity and outrage, even though they're totally appropriate, seem odd. How was that the line? It wasn't a problem when he tried to do it without Jesse's permission (leaving aside the question of Kathy's consent because lord knows the movie doesn't give that a moment's thought), but now that consent is involved it's unacceptable?

I'm talking mostly about the end, but the movie is creepy throughout. Pat gives off warning signs the whole time, neither of the guys is really likable, and it's all such a strange set-up. Even when the two couples are introduced, there's a real swinger/partner-swap vibe that doesn't feel right.

So we get to the end where Pat is harassing the other three. Jesse tries to shoot him and ends up killing Kathy instead. The next morning, Pat's sitting next to Jesse, the two of them staring at Kathy's body, and Pat's nattering away about whether Jesse remembers this one time when they were kids. Jesse is destroyed, his lover dead by his own hands because of the madness of his friend Pat, and Pat's still there. How are we supposed to read this ending? If Jesse had just said, “yes,” and let Pat screw Kathy, everything would be okay? Pat can't really be blamed, he just wanted his friend back? This movie makes me feel dirty.

For the first half, the movie is cheesy and unintentionally homoerotic enough to be funny and highly riffable, but when it starts its descent, it goes fast and deep into the darkness. This movie isn't fun, it's full of WTF-moments and really depressing. Don't go looking for it.

Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica stars as Jesse, but noting that just reminds me how good (minus the final hour) the reboot of Battlestar was. Watch that instead.

012. Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)
Director: Robert Hammer
Writer: Robert Hammer & Michael D. Castle, based on “Nightline” by Michael Curtis
From: Pure Terror

A serial rapist-murderer becomes obsessed with a radio psychologist and must be caught by the police before the doctor becomes his next victim.

The movie starts with a very promising moment: a title card announcing that this is a Hammer/Castle co-production. Hammer studios and William Castle? This will be b-movie gold! Only it's neither that Hammer nor that Castle and all hope is abandoned.

The plot itself begins with the killer assaulting his first victim and the ensuing crime-scene investigation by the cops featuring a wise-cracking forensic investigator who isn't funny. On top of not being funny, it's during this scene that the cops let us know this is a murderer rapist who maybe commits the acts in that order.

Thanks. Thanks a bunch.

And maybe there's nothing else that needs to be said. That moment, that failure of the movie to know itself and strike the right tone continues throughout. It's fine to have a serial killer that does foul and disturbing things to people, that's Silence of the Lambs and many other excellent thrillers. Those movies, though, don't marry their horror with irreverent wise-cracking cops. They know their tone.

We're then introduced to what seems like the main character, the psychologist, who has a call-in radio show. The killer is one of her regular callers—affecting a bad accent and calling himself “Ramone”—and calls to essentially brag about his latest killing without explicitly saying he killed the woman. The doctor's response starts immediately getting to the core of his madness and the killer hangs up.

This feels like it'd be the plot: a cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the doctor. The killer is stalking the doctor, attacking her patients, constantly calling her, the movie is him vs. her.

However the movie is convinced that it's really about the cops vs. the killer, one cop in particular. He's a super cop, the bestest cop, most amazingly coppest cop that ever copped a cop of cop! Nothing gets by him except everything. Let's call him “Officer Poochy” since he's so cool and everyone's role in the movie is to say how cool he is.

How cool is Officer Poochy? After the doctor's patient is assaulted and killed, Officer Poochy wants the doctor to just hand over the patient's files in case there's anything there that would point to her killer. The doctor says he needs a warrant. Then there's a long strawman argument about how psychologists are only working to keep criminals out of jail and it's all these laws and due process and Constitution that are getting in the way of cops doing their job and she should want to hand the files over regardless of the laws binding her because it was one of her patients that was killed. She still refuses and then Officer Poochy hands her the warrant that he had the whole time. Good thing he wasn't insisting time was a factor and the primary reason he couldn't go through standard procedure of getting the warrant he already—oh wait, his argument was bullshit and he's a prick.

The cop and psychologist meet up again when there's a woman threatening to jump off a building. The psychologist is trying to talk her down when the cop shows up, takes over the show, and starts berating the woman telling her to jump and let everyone get on with their evening. Of course this brings her off the ledge and the psychologist agrees to get dinner with Officer Poochy because he's just that cool.

So the doctor and cop hook up, killer goes after the doctor not because he's obsessed with her as he has been the entire movie but because he wants revenge on Officer Poochy, Officer Poochy saves the doctor at the last minute, and, because he's just that cool, kills the killer—in a scene with hilarious ADR.

Then Poochy returns to his home planet and that's the end. Additional notes: the music cues in the flick are terrible with bad music that doesn't match the tone, the killer looks like Kevin James which is one of the only entertaining parts of the movie, and the N-word count in the movie is 3. So you've got that going on.

A dull, dull serial killer movie that seems more interested in hammering it's conservative politics down your throat than scaring/entertaining you. If it had just been the killer vs. the cop or the killer vs. the doctor, the tension would have been easier to manage, and I might have been able to get behind its badness. When the cop becomes the main character, though, and let's be clear, he is not the main character for the first 30-40 minutes, the whole thing falls apart. If it had been just the killer and the doctor, there would have been the potential for a really creepy Argento-esque mystery where she's slowly learning who he is and what he's doing through his phone calls as he's inevitably getting closer and closer to attacking her. The movie that's here, though? Forget about it.

Friday, November 06, 2015

009. The Beach Girls and 010. Deep Red

Jump to Deep Red (1975)

009. The Beach Girls (1982)
Director: Bud Townsend
Writer: Patrick Sheane Duncan, Phil Groves
From: Cult Cinema

A young woman invites her two friends to spend the summer at her uncle’s fabulous beachside mansion where the girls decide to throw a massive party. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is trying to catch a band of drug smugglers who’ve just ditched a massive marijuana shipment. The weed washes up right near a certain stretch of coastline with hilarious results.

Sarah is staying at her real estate magnate uncle’s beach house all summer and has invited Ginger and Ducky to stay with her, which is the first curious conceit of the movie. These aren’t her friends. In fact, they make that explicit saying they’re coming just because she has access to this great house. You’d think this would become a point of conflict—“You’re not my friends, you’re just using me!”—but it never comes up even as Ginger and Ducky create ever more problems for Sarah.

In fact, there’s no real conflict in the entire movie. Ginger and Ducky arrive, decide to throw a massive party, the uncle shows up and says everyone has to leave by morning, but isn’t particularly mad. He tells Sarah, you’re young, you’ll have parties, but sometimes the parties have to end. Ginger and Ducky are having none of it, though, and decide to take turns trying to seduce him.

It’s a little hard to summarize this movie because it all felt so perfunctory. I found it almost as dull as The Creeping Terror, which says a lot. My notes even say, “23 minutes to get to the beginning of the set-up of a plot.” The movie imagines itself as a bold, brassy comedy, but there’s just no energy here, no sense of joy.

Joy is important. This isn’t quite a full-on boob comedy, but it’s operating within the same territory of gently venturing into transgression, a giggling sense that we’re all engaged in something naughty. That feeling is fun and, I’d argue, ultimately what carries the more watchable 80’s sex comedies. Moreso than the not-quite-porn nudity that they had, they conveyed a sense of sexuality and relationships as fun, of a fantasy where people eventually are freed from the burdens of their daily fears and personal hang-ups. Remember, the triumphant end of all these films (including this one) is the shy “good girl” ends up hooking up with the sweet guy who’s shown mutual interest in her. Relationships, so fraught in our daily lives, are simple things with little-to-no consequences here. The world in sex comedies is a little more relaxed.

The Beach Girls isn’t just relaxed, though, it’s on Quaaludes, and that laid-back tone doesn’t serve its purpose.

Everything in the movie seems perfunctory, every scene present because, “sigh, I guess we have to do this scene now.” Despite the premise—which is just supposed to provide a framework for za-a-a-any hijinks—there’s no sense of fun. The first party they have only lasts one night but is shot in such a way that it feels interminable and runs over the course of a week. There’s a subplot of the Coast Guard trying to catch drug smugglers that’s trying to be campy with ridiculous performances from both the officers and the smugglers, but it’s so at odds with the rest of the movie that it’s just bad (it’s also just bad on its own). Even the parts that feel like they’re going to be conflicts—Sarah interested in a guy who’s not immediately hooking up with her, Ginger and Ducky trying to seduce the uncle while his fiancée is due back at any time, the Coast Guard busting the party and finding all the weed—come to nothing and never feel like they have consequences. Nothing in the film has a sense of risk.

On the whole, it’s innocuous and inoffensive (except for the racist stereotypes of the gardener and chauffeur which introduce their own level of “why?”)—I wasn’t cringing while watching any of it—but it’s that very innocuousness that makes it fail and so hard to watch. It wasn’t worse than staring at a wall for 100 minutes, but it was very rarely distinguishable.

010. Deep Red (1975) aka Profondo Rosso
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
From: Chilling

A psychic detects a murderer while demonstrating her powers at a lecture only to be killed by the figure that night. Her upstairs neighbor, a pianist who witnesses the attack, tries to hunt down the killer before becoming the next victim.

I always forget my Marshall MacLuan, that the medium is the message, that the way something is communicated is almost as important, if not more important, than what’s communicated. This version of Deep Red is dim, muddy, and even has VHS scanlines. There’s a real possibility that this is the TV edit.

I was initially disappointed watching it because I enjoy Argento, I enjoy his visual style, and this seemed to lack all of it until about an hour in. Turns out, my copy is just so bad that I can’t see how fantastic each shot actually is. Check this tumblr post for real screen shots. That is really something and would have made the movie more interesting to watch. As it is, the acting and dialogue isn’t quite enough to carry the weight of the film.

Argento’s films tend to follow a bit of a fairy-tale or nightmare logic. Things connect imagistically or, repurposing Moebius’ comments on comic book writer-artists, events happen because they look good and then are worked into the plot. That makes for an arresting film experience, but, when you’re looking at the film on a plot level, can provide a lot of absurdity.

This movie has a central trio of characters—the killer, their next potential victim, and the reporter/investigator. This is a standard trio in most thrillers, but this drops the reporter relatively early even though she seems to be developing a romantic relationship with the potential victim (something, it turns out, that was cut from the US version of the film). Likewise, other victims arise, but it’s not clear why the killer goes after them or how the killer even learns about them.

At one point the film cuts to a cottage in the countryside featuring people I don’t recognizing talking about someone I don’t know. One person leaves, the other goes into the cottage, realizes she’s not alone, and gets killed. But she’s able to leave a message. Later, someone connected to the first victim comes to investigate, finds the message, but is killed in their home by the killer.

How did these things happen? They’re visually amazing. One death involves a giant marionette/puppet-thing rushing across the room at a victim. The victim destroys it and then the killer murders them. Why any of it? I don’t know but it’s super creepy.

According to Wikipedia, the US cut is missing 22 minutes, mostly involving the romance, the humor, and a subplot of a folktale about a haunted house where a children’s song is heard just before someone dying (something that is a nice touch that isn’t explored enough in this cut).

As for the version I watched, there’s some nice tone when it’s allowed to develop and compelling visuals, but it’s hampered by the things that have been cut and by being such a terrible print. If you can find one of the official DVD/Blu-ray releases of this, check it out.

It looks like this particular version has been posted to archive.org here and is public domain. I've added an MPEG2 copy here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Story Slam: Scary

The story of one of the scariest things to happen to me on one of my previous jobs, and one of the moments that was supposed to scare me from my current job.

007. The Big Fight and 008. The Creeping Terror

Jump to The Creeping Terror (1964)

007. The Big Fight (1972) aka Blood on the Sun, Lei Tai
Directors: Shing Yuan Sun, Ting Mei Sung
Writer: Shing Yuan Sun
From: Cult Cinema

During the WWII Japanese occupation of China, two occupation officials fear that guerrilla forces will find common cause with the local martial arts school and the two will unite against the Japanese forces. The officials propose a tournament to flush out and kill the warriors, but of course the fights are rigged. Our hero and the guerrillas must decide when to fight and when it's best to bide their time.

More Kung-Fu so soon and one I enjoyed much more than Chase Step By Step. I think there are fewer fight scenes in this one, but they carry more weight. There's certainly more character and story here and some real question about how things will shake out. The movie also feels more fun.

We open in the martial arts school where a scrappy youth is beaten down by Brother Wu. Is this the nefarious Brother Wu I've heard so much about in the Kung-Fu parodies of my youth? He's a scoundrel, the movie's villain, and appropriately wormy. It's nice to have a villain to hate.

We cut to our hero traveling across Japanese-occupied China smuggling salt to his girlfriend. Is it just to make food or for use in developing gun powder to help the rebellion? The guards running the checkpoints along his path have the same question but are quickly dispatched by him and what had seemed to be a small band of travelers. Turns out they're part of the rebellion and they've heard of him. He invites them back to his town to lay low for a bit and plot the expulsion of the Japanese.

There are minor skirmishes with Brother Wu, political maneuvering by the school and Wu's father—the town leader, ultimately leading to Wu and his father proposing the tournament plan to their Japanese overlords. The tournament will pit the great Japanese masters of the various fighting styles—including sumo—against any willing challengers. Of course, the fights are fixed and all the challengers are killed by the Japanese masters.

Our hero and the head of the martial arts school see it for the trap that it is and forbid any of their students from participating, but eventually their honor and the safety of their friends is so threatened that they must test their styles against the Japanese.

The whole thing works. The fight scenes are fun, the villains are sufficiently mustache-twirling, and the story isn't too bad. Sure, there's the scrappy kid who is useless and annoying and forces the hero's hand later, and the hero's girlfriend whose role in the movie is to get killed to inspire him to fight back. That's doubly disappointing because the leader of the guerrillas is a woman and it would have been really easy to make the girlfriend involved with the underground in the town. Just give her a little something to be a character as opposed to a button to activate heroic action. Despite those two issues, it was fun.

The movie also works on a bad film/camp level. The dubbing is bad to the point where I wonder if the dubbers were being sarcastic, you can make jokes about what's going on without diminishing the film, and it has a literal “Your mother!” moment. +2 movie.

I came away from this with the sense of the old sword & sandal films, although that might just be because it's a dub from the 70's. My copy was formatted for television and it really should be in wide-screen. The choreography is pretty okay and, on top of that, the movie has sequences of Kung-Fu versus guns. I want to see all of that.

There is no copyright notice on this movie and it shows up in Film Chest's Public Domain film list, so I've uploaded an MPEG of this to archive.org here.


008. The Creeping Terror (1964)
Director: Vic Savage
Writer: Robert Silliphant
From: Cult Cinema & Sci-Fi Invasion

A newly married couple witnesses a flying saucer crash. As they alert the authorities, one of the monsters on board escapes. While the military is busy investigating the saucer and the creature chained up inside, its fellow traveler is moving ever-closer to the town, claiming victims as it goes.

I have seen this movie a ridiculous number of times, mostly due to The It's Alive Show. They played the episode featuring this movie a lot, or maybe I just feel like they did because of their affection for the admittedly strange “Bobby!” exclamation in the movie.

This movie is such a slow, goofy spectacle. When I tell my students about my bad movie hobby, I reference this film and describe it as “hallucinogenically dull.” My jaw was on the ground watching this because nothing is done right. Nothing.

The movie features a narrator describing what characters are saying in the movie including during scenes where you hear the characters speak. The filmmakers had the actors' voices reading the lines but still muted them in favor of another voice telling you what you were watching and what the characters were saying. This is not the most strangely incompetent part of the movie, though. This is the classic picture where the monster, the hulking alien beast roaming the landscape, is a bunch of carpet remnants quilted together and being shaken by a guy underneath. The monster lurches on to its victims, some of who have to drag themselves through the doggy-door-style flap on the front to be effectively consumed. The actors involved should be praised for not constantly giggling in the face of this “horror.”

It is glorious.

I know I'm not giving the standard detailed run-down of the plot, but there's none to give. The editing and content of the film is so strange, so ad-hoc, that I wonder if things didn't just fall apart half-way/three-quarters through and they decided to see what kind of film they could make just with the material they had. This movie is so strange, put together in such an odd fashion that it feels like a documentary made by aliens. The Wikipedia entry for the movie has a brief description of what happened during production, but I want more. I want the Ed Wood of the making of this movie.

Even though it is dull, the movie is too weird not to recommend. Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured it as episode 606. It's available on MST3k Volume 1 or on YouTube. Unfortunately, the film itself is still under copyright and so I can't share my copy online.

Friday, October 23, 2015

005. Chase Step By Step and 006. Country Blue

Jump to Country Blue (1973)

005. Chase Step By Step aka Bu bu zhui zong (1982)
Director: Min-Hsiung Wu (as Yu Min Sheong)
Writer: Yang Hsiang
From: Cult Cinema

Two acrobatic fighters are dispatched from a circus troupe to escort a shipment of gold to a drought-stricken region. As word spreads of their travels, various bandits scheme to overwhelm them and steal the gold.

This movie has immediate strangeness to entertain. The characters' voices are all dubbed by British actors so while I'm watching people I expect to have the wrong voices, somehow they have the wrong wrong voices. On top of that, the dub itself feels sort of loose, like the voice actors were ad-libbing a little. It's not as extreme as the initial US dub of the anime Ghost Story, but it does explain why parodies of this genre had the vocal cadences they did.

As for the story, our two leads are a male and female team from a circus that's also a martial arts training ground. They set off together and, of course, there's immediate sexual tension. She doesn't want anything to do with him but gets very angry every time he flirts with another woman. His flirting inevitably lands them in a trap where he's been seduced by bandits. In her jealousy, the woman loses track of the gold, but, fear not, he thought ahead and had actually stored it away.

This dynamic is the bulk of the movie and it gets tired almost immediately. The film's a product of its time but it still feels like a tired trope. She's as good a fighter as he is—that's why she's on the trip—so the forced humor of their middle-school level interactions falls flat. The whole thing prevents them from being characters so the movie has to rely on its fight scenes for the entertainment.

Which is what this genre is supposed to do anyway, but generally the fights were boring. There's a nice one on stilts and an inventive tightrope walk sequence, but the movie's shot pretty poorly and, when it seems to get the angles right, the poor cropping and transfer does the rest of the work of killing the tension and excitement.

This is, by the way, a really poor transfer. Not only does the lazy pan & scan (featuring very little panning or scanning) kill this, the film periodically goes out of focus. True, there are a lot of close-up shots so you wouldn't see many hits land anyway, but there are also scenes with long-handled weapons, fights with people being flanked, and shots of people leaping through the air that suggest the original filmmakers did try to make full use of the entire screen.

From a camp perspective, there are two moments that are pretty entertaining: there is a nice long shot of a dummy being thrown from a cliff and, at 54 minutes the movie just cuts to a man with a sword through his body. No fight scene, no appearance of the man before, just—cut, dead, heroes moving on.

Despite a few peaks, the movie never really hits its stride, mostly because there's no internal clock. The heroes have to get to the region before the residents starve, but there's no sense of how long that would be, how long their trip is taking, or how the people are suffering due to the delays. On top of that, none of the villains ever rise to the level of being a big bad. Each one is just yet another in a series of pointless fights.

This isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but is mostly meh throughout. Fine enough for throwing on during a Sunday afternoon or redubbing with friends, but I wouldn't recommend it too far beyond that. Unfortunately, the archive.org forums list this as being under copyright.


006. County Blue (1973)
Director: Jack Conrad
Writers: Jack Conrad, William F. Conrad
From: Cult Cinema & Drive-In

Bobby has just gotten out of jail, but is chaffing at small-town country life. He goes on a crime spree with his girlfriend Ruthie, but the law is starting to catch up with them.

From the start you know you're in for something. The film is written, directed, produced, edited by, and starring John Conrad. No wonder all these shots lasted so long. He did every bit of every one of them and each one was gold, Jerry, gold!

The opening shot is text telling it's a hot, humid day. Expository text superimposed on characters and giving us their background and relation to each other continues through the opening sequence because none of that can be communicated through story or acting.

Bobby, fresh out of jail, comes to the race track where J. J., the man who raised him, is hanging out doing spot repairs on various cars. Ruthie, Bobby's girlfriend and J. J.'s daughter is there as well. They chat a bit over the noise of race cars saying. . . something, when Bobby throws a beer at the sheriff. The sheriff comes over and knocks Bobby out. Cut to an aerial shot of the race track, the title sequence, and the titular theme song (+2 points for titular theme song)

Within two days of being out of jail, Bobby is tired of small-town Southern life. He decides to rob the bank in the next town over which has the most amiable hold-up victims ever. I mean they're downright sociable. They don't get as much money as they would like from the bank, but leave to celebrate anyway. While traveling, Bobby holds up a gas station they visit—just because—and picks up a newspaper with an article about the robbery and how the bank manager tricked them out of stealing more money. So they return, steal all the money, and are now on the run from the law in earnest.

I couldn't stop thinking about Bobby being Ricky from Trailer Park Boys. He's relentlessly stupid, always scheming about his next big score, and hooking up with his girlfriend who's married to a guy he doesn't like, which makes taking the movie seriously a little difficult. The movie starts out relatively light—Bobby's stupid, J. J. is ad-libbing throughout, and they work at a scrapyard with a pet monkey. Then it turns into this grim Bonney & Clyde thing that doesn't make sense, especially since Bobby keeps coming back to J. J.'s place after screwing up the various robberies.

Eventually Bobby and Ruthie get arrested and the movie enters its grindhouse portion with their friend Arneda showing up to break them out in a massive gun fight. The sheriff chases them but goes over a cliff and explodes (for no reason) and they're all driving off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Until Bobby takes a wrong turn and drives off a cliff into a lake where Ruthie and Arneda drown.

This still isn't the end though! He goes back to J. J., who is really sanguine about Bobby killing his daughter, and borrows yet another car to go off and start his life anew, except a police car starts following him into the final shot.

This movie is just exhausting. The characters aren't sympathetic, it's trying to be serious when it's drastically silly, and it has no pacing whatsoever. I don't recommend it mostly because there's nothing to grab on to—the character parts don't pan out and the action parts are entertaining mostly for how from out-of-nowhere they are. It's just that they're not worth the time it takes to get to them.

There's a copyright logo for 1973 on this movie and I have no reason to doubt its validity.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Story Slam: Evolution

My latest Story Slam piece, this time about being fat, forever fat. I tied for first and lost in a sudden-death one-minute story-off about broccoli. That almost seems like a story in and of itself.

Friday, October 16, 2015

003. Deathrow Gameshow and 004. My Mom's a Werewolf

Jump to My Mom's a Werewolf (1989)

003. Deathrow Gameshow (1987)
Director: Mark Pirro
Writers: Mark Pirro, Alan Gries (additional material)
From: Cult Cinema

Chuck Toedan is the host of Live or Die, a game show where death row inmates try to win prizes ranging from money for their families, a stay of execution, or even a gubernatorial pardon, but, if they lose, die on live TV. Despite the show's success, Chuck's facing a lot of problems—criticism from public morality groups about the quality of his show and death threats from the mafia after he executed on of their bosses. As a hitman closes in on him, he considers quitting entirely, that is, if he gets the chance.

This isn't the movie I wanted to watch. I was going to watch My Mom's a Werewolf and then roll as normal for the other movie, but the file was misnamed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was about to embark upon a Mark Pirro double-feature.

The first thing we see is the logo for Pirro's production company, Pirromount. Get it? Like Paramount, but Mark Pirro. Also, the logo is like a neon version of the Paramount logo, but with the silhouette of a tit instead of the mountain. This is a good indication of the level of wit the film has to offer.

From there we move to the opening scene where the game is in progress and a man is in a guillotine. Chuck tells the man he has the option of walking free if he can name the movie they show a clip from. The clip has a mummy creeping up on a woman who escapes at the last minute leaving the mummy stomping and swearing. The man fails to guess, “Curses of the Mummy,” and so is going to die. Turns out his family is in the audience, very excited to see him on TV and they have a chance to win $10,000 if his head falls face-up in the basket. Chuck pulls the cord, the blade drops, and the judges decide the family wins the ten grand.

If the movie had been able to maintain that darkly satiric tone—the man about to die remains staunchly amiable, insisting upon that game show contestant politeness—this might have been a cult classic. Instead, it pretty quickly goes off the rails into a lazy comedy of broad stereotypes. Curiously, the whole thing is summed up in that production logo. That shows you what Pirro thinks passes for clever.

To it's credit, the movie has a titular theme song so +2 for that as well as commercials set in the world with this game show that are as dark and clever as that opening bit. In fact, the short pieces cut into the movie are pretty sharp. It's just a shame there's all the rest of the movie surrounding them.

Chuck faces off against Gloria Sternvirgin, head of WAAMA—Women Against Anything Men Appreciate (boy did 80's misogyny not age well)—who criticizes his show for being debased and violent, he goes to his office where he has an airhead secretary, and he gets death threats from a mob hitman over the death of one of the bosses. Sternvirgin barges in to yell at him some more when the hitman arrives to make a deal. He'll let Chuck live if Chuck gets the hitman's mother into the audience of another game show.

Of course the mother ends up on Chuck's show, he kills her, the hitman finds out, Chuck gets him on the show, fails to kill him, and is saved at the last minute by a guy who's been bugging Chuck the whole movie to be a contestant. Also, Chuck and Gloria fall in love and run off together at the end. Of course.

The tiredness of the movie is what grates. This feels like what Seth MacFarlane if he'd been around 30 years ago, something clever when pitched that has lost all novelty ten minutes later. It's not that there aren't occasional good jokes—like I said, the fake ads are clever and disturbed in the best way—it's just that the movie never settles on a tone.

After the gleefully dark opening we get broad, Zucker Brothers style comedy done as throwaway filler which, like the dark commercials, is actually pretty good. If the movie had maintained that tone I'd have been happy too.

There's also the likely-unintentional racist imagery. The second victim executed on the show is killed by hanging and he's black. That's not the joke (the joke is, “What every man wants—to be well-hung”), but it's still awkward. Likewise later they have a shirtless black man in a cage who's been kept in solitary confinement for 15 years and is given the option between sexually assaulting a woman or eating a freshly-cooked turkey. He ends up screwing the turkey, which is fine as jokes go, it's just the unconscious evocation of slavery and something I don't want to be thinking about during a stupid comedy.

This plays like Videodrome without the philosophy or The Running Man without the dystopian considerations. It could have been better if it was even just a little more, well, anything, but is so smug about how clever its concept it that it never pushes itself into being consistently entertaining.

Recommend instead: Videodrome, UHF, The Running Man



004. My Mom's a Werewolf (1989)
Director: Michael Fischa
Writer: Mark Pirro
From: Cult Cinema and Pure Terror.

Leslie, a bored housewife who feels neglected by her husband, catches the attention of a werewolf who infects her with his curse. It's up to her daughter and her friend to figure out what's happening and stop the curse before it becomes permanent.

So this is the movie I was aiming to watch and I ended up with two pieces written by Mark Pirro. In fact, during this movie, when Leslie is channel surfing, she flips past the talk show segment from Deathrow Gameshow where Chuck and Gloria first meet. So either this is a shared universe where Live or Die is on the air or this is a world where you can flip through channels and find Deathrow Gameshow. Either way, a very strange moment for me. Later in the movie, there's a reference to Galaxina which is also on these box sets.

From the start, this looks more promising than Deathrow Gameshow. First, it's not directed by Pirro, so there's some hope there. Also, it's not a Pirromount production. Instead, it's a Hairy one. That is not my joke, that's actually the production company's name.

We open with a cover of the Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs classic “Lil' Red Riding Hood” by Midnight Ride who are doing their damnedest to sound exactly like Sam the Sham. The rights must have cost something because they use the song at least 3 times in the movie, but it's a good tune. Also, the movie has real actors: Susan Blakely, John Saxon, Ruth Buzzi, and Marcia “Mrs. Krabappel” Wallace. There's some real comedic and acting talent on the screen, but little if anything for them to work with.

Leslie encounters John Saxon, the werewolf, at a pet store where he enchants and then inflicts his curse upon her. It's never clear what powers the werewolf has. There's standard wolf stuff—sniffing, running, strength—but he also feels a bit like a vampire. It'd be a bigger issue if the movie seemed to care about there being a werewolf in it.

And the movie really doesn't. Leslie's gradual transformation is supposed to be fraught and horrific, coded as though it's going to be a big problem, but no one seems particularly bothered by it. In fact, everyone kind of likes it. There's a scene where Leslie, not yet realizing what's happening, is driving and singing along to the radio. A couple in the car next to her sees her, sees how much she's changing, and says, “Singing werewolf. Don't see much of that anymore.” That's the best gag in the movie and really what the movie should have been.

Everyone who encounters Leslie's transformation loves it—the dentist she visits to have her fangs filed down, the hairdresser who makes her up in a new “Wolverine Chic,” even the kids at the party think she's just wearing awesome make up. She's upset but everyone else is on board. Honestly, if you're going to come this close to Teen Wolf, just own it and make a movie that follows that plot.

Not content just to rip off Teen Wolf, the movie also has touches of Fright Night with the daughter and her friend turning to horror magazines for werewolf advice and finally contacting a fortune teller for instructions. They face off against John Saxon werewolf, a la Fright Night, but it takes so long for them to suspect the mom's a werewolf or that there's any threat that they need to deal with at all. The daughter spends most of the movie being pissy because she thinks her mom's having an affair.

In fact, everything in the movie takes so long. There's supposed to be werewolves, it's in the title, and it's clear we're in a goofy 80's comedy from jump street. Just get on with it!.

This isn't even direct-to-video, this is made-for-tv fare, designed for USA Up All Night to be broken up by commercial breaks. Maybe that would have made it more watchable, but, as a whole, it's just relentlessly bland made all the worse due to moments of real promise. My constant reaction while watching was, “There's the better movie that you can't be bothered to make.”

While it's better than Deathrow Gameshow—this is watchable with enough scenes that work well enough on their own that you could have it on while doing chores and idly paying attention to it—it's not, in any way, worth hunting down.

Recommend instead: Teen Wolf, Fright Night

Both of these movies are from the late 80's and distributed by Crown International. There is zero chance they are public domain.